Blood On Our Hands?

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A reader puts his finger on an important aspect of the current debate in Iraq. I hope that General Petraeus achieves some kind of miracle in Baghdad. I doubt it, but of course I hope for it – if it means a space for a real, national government to emerge, and not just a way to pacify some Sunni areas before the Shiites really get to work. But if or when it fails, will we be able to face the moral consequences of withdrawal or redeployment? I wonder:

One of the main arguments against an American pullback or pullout is the likelihood of a genocidal and brutal civil war that would "force" the U.S. to come in to stop the slaughter.

I think it is appropriate to assume that there would be massive killing. I’ve heard arguments to the contrary and I’ve heard arguments that Syria/Iran, etc. would not permit it, but assuming that it would not take place is as foolish as assuming that everything will be just fine. So we should assume that there will be incredible slaughter, religious dislocation and depravity – at least in the non-Kurdish areas – if we get out.

Query: Do we have the discipline to stay out and to be presented night after night with scenes of uniminaginable slaughter that we will be accused of being "responsible for"? Because if we don’t have the discipline – or the cold-heartedness, if you will – then that’s a strong argument to continue with Bush’s approach.

Indeed it is. The great drawback of my own position is that it requires the United States to stand back as genocide takes place. The great drawback of the president’s position is that we are already policing and enabling a genocide at a slower pace but comparable scale. History suggests that Americans can leave a place to hell. America was tough enough to watch the Vietnamese boat people. But of course it makes me pause. It should. The choices before us are all dreadful. But sometimes the best decision is the least palatable in the short term. I say we have no side in a Sunni-Shia war; and if we have no side, we should be in no war.

(Photo: Iraqis prepare the body of a relative killed in yesterday’s suicide car bomb explosion as funerals for the dead begin on February 4, 2007 in Baghdad, Iraq. Taken by Wathiq Khuzaie/Getty.)